Analysis: Veteran DE Clayborn brings speed, strength to Patriots’ pass rush

(Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports)

So what sort of player is Adrian Clayborn?

The Patriots addressed a serious issue of need with the free-agent addition of the veteran defensive end Friday, an edge presence with has 30 career sacks in seven seasons in the NFL. On the surface, the pairing certainly makes sense: After losing Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long last offseason, the Patriots struggled to find someone outside of Trey Flowers who could get consistent pressure on opposing passers. Clayborn is that sort of individual: a 29-year-old who has spent seven seasons in the league (four with the Bucs, three with the Falcons). Last year, Pro Football Focus graded Clayborn as the 19th best edge rusher (85.5) in the NFL. By way of comparison, PFF had Flowers with an 87.8 grade (14th overall, but best on the Patriots) and James Harrison next at 77.6.

Questions about the move could come as it relates to scheme. He comes from a system where he played a pure 4-3 defensive end, and based on what we saw last year, tends to line up super wide outside of the left tackle (part of which was scheme-based), and almost exclusively as the right defensive end, where Flowers has played most of his snaps for the Patriots. That raises questions about a potential fit as an edge defender in New England: Can Clayborn make the transition to the other side? Can the Patriots make a few tweaks to their system to play to his strengths? Is there any positional flexibility there?

One point in his favor is the fact that he’s worked as a defensive tackle in the past — in 2015 he rotated between defensive tackle and defensive end before appearing to move to end full time in 2016, so there’s some positional versatility. Another point in his favor is that Clayborn spent time in Tampa with Greg Schiano, who is a longtime Bill Belichick consigliere. I have a hard time imagining the Patriots don’t go after Clayborn without a phone call to Schiano to figure out whether or not he could play in New England’s system.